Susanna Salter Was the First American Woman Elected to Office (As a Joke)
Argonia, Kansas, wasn't exactly a hotbed of progressivism in the late 19th century. In fact, it was so new that Susanna Salter's second child was the first person born in the tiny Quaker village of less than 500. Salter was also not really the kind of person anyone expected to make history, let alone twice: She was born in Ohio to a family of farmers, and nothing exciting happened to her until she met the son of a prominent Kansas politician in college and married him.
Her father and husband went into business together, and after the town was incorporated in 1885, they were elected mayor and city clerk, respectively.
That left Susanna in a powerful position, writing ordinances for the town and serving as second-in-command to the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Not everyone liked that, specifically a group of men who crashed the Union's caucus to select their nominations for the upcoming local election after Kansas granted women the right to vote in 1887.
It's not clear if there was some kind of confrontation with Salter, who presided over the caucus, or if these dudes just picked on her because she was the only Union officer eligible to run, but they hatched a scheme to sneak her name onto the ballot. (It was way easier to pull that shit back then.) They assumed no one would notice it, and if they did, they definitely wouldn't vote for a woman, and her loss would be a humiliation for the Union and uppity broads in general.
Not only did the people of Argonia notice, the chairman of the local Republican Party quickly uncovered the ruse and marched himself over to Salter's home, where he "found her doing the family's washing." He asked her if she would accept the office if she was elected; she was like, "Well, it probably beats the washing," so he went out on an extremely short-notice campaign trail to "just show those fellows who framed up this deal a thing or two."
She won in a landslide. With the help of the Union and the efforts of the chairman, she became the first woman elected mayor, or to any political office, in the whole country. Nationwide, newspapers sent reporters to cover what they surely assumed was a clusterfuck, but Salter's term as mayor was hilariously boring. That was due in part to the nature of her constituency; highlights included "two draymen [who] were arrested for refusing to buy licenses [and] some boys [who] were warned about throwing rocks at a vacant house, but otherwise, the term was politically uneventful." She was even faced with a city council that included three of the 20 men who had put her there, but they got along fine after the prank backfired. She quietly stepped down after the single term that she didn't ask for, and it only took the rest of the country another half-a-lifetime to give every woman the chance to be accidentally elected office.
Top image: Kansas Historical Society/Wikimedia Commons